John bare witness of him and cried, saying:
“This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me and of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father – he hath declared him.”
Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, says John the Baptist whose words are recorded for us here by John the Evangelist, the disciple and apostle of Christ.
John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He contrasts here the all important distinction between the two Testaments.
One was a set of rules handed down at Mount Sinai after the Jews left their slavery in Egypt; a set of rules we call the Ten Commandments – set of rules which no human being can truly keep.
That was the point !
The second was the fulfillment and purpose of the Old Testament Law. Jesus Christ – the very presence and life of God come in the flesh to explain human failure to keep the Law and to provide the way out of the impossibility that imposes.
Grace – the unmerited favour of God. You cannot earn it; you cannot win it; you cannot merit it. You cannot keep the Law and so you must suffer the penalty of the Law, eternal damnation.
But Jesus Christ came instead to be the ultimate sacrifice for us – to pay the penalty God’s righteousness demands for our disobedience to his Law. At the cross, Jesus Christ took upon himself the sins of the world.
The truth was that we cannot keep the Law; and the truth is that only God can keep the Law, and only God can wipe away our sins. Jesus declares God, says John. He declares God’s truth and he declares God’s great love.
Or as the apostle Paul put it when he wrote to the Romans,
but God commendeth his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us
This is grace – the unmerited favour of God, not only in forgiving all our past wrongdoing, even wrong thinking, but in providing Christ himself to be with us and enable us to live as we should, that is in Grace and in Truth, in the very life of God himself.
John the Baptist’s audience were primarily if not all Jews. The chosen people brought out of Egypt to receive God’s Law and to live by it as God’s people.
As John here says, and of his fullness have we all received and grace for grace.
God’s grace was manifest to the Jews under the Old Testament. While they disobeyed he yet sent his prophets to warn them to amend their ways, to repent and again obey his Law. As a nation they had repeatedly witnessed the saving hand of God deliver them from their enemies.
But they had repeatedly hardened their hearts as the former prophets put it. They had refused God’s ways and therefore his love. As a nation they had suffered, then, repeated acts of Judgement such that now they lived under the Rule of the Romans.
They had been awaiting a Messiah – an Anointed One – who would deliver them from the oppression of unholy foreigners. They expected a Deliverer after the fashion of this carnal world – they did not expect the Saviour God actually sent: the only begotten Son that is God born of a woman and taking human flesh.
And he did not come to wage war and by human might throw out the Romans. He came to show another way, a far superior way; a way which was far mightier than mere physical and material means. He showed them the spiritual means to overcome their enemies, by looking at their True enemy residing in their own hearts – their sin.
The sin in every human heart that hates and wages war. The sin that seeks to promote self above every one else and all else. The sin that seeks its own desires – to exalt ME and neglect, even exploit others. Such sin manifestly reigns in this material world. It is evidently destructive.
But Christ taught, lived and died another way in order to teach us to die and live another way – by grace and truth afforded by the resurrection power of Christ.
Grace and truth being higher than hate and lies. And far more powerful.
Jesus lived it and showed us the way. Let us follow that way.